Thursday 16 January 2014

Pets Are For Life, Not Till Your Lifestyle Changes

January is always a dreary month and sadly it has been no different for us here at Last Hope. It's the 14th of January 2014 and as I write this blog we have been asked to take in 10 dogs and 2 cats since the New Year rang in. 31 dogs have found themselves in Meath Dog Pound over the same period. Our foster homes and kennels are now full with dogs. These 10 dogs & 2 cats have not been found straying. They have not been dumped or rescued from pounds or bad situations. They have been surrendered. So on top of emergency cases we are trying our best to deal with each one. It is like a January clear out of unwanted pets. And like us, the first question you might be asking is why? Why are people getting rid of a pet that has been loyal to them for a number of years? Why do they suddenly not have the time to take care of them? Why are our facilities and rescues across the country filling up with unwanted pets this month? Here are the 3 most common reasons that we hear ALL the time.

No.3. "I'm emigrating"
So we know times are hard, and people have lost jobs and some have no other choice. They can't find family or friends to take their beloved pet and so they turn to us for help, their last hope to find someone to care for the pet they have to leave behind. It's tough, we don't like seeing it, we have seen owners shed tears as they leave their pet behind, and the confused expression on the dogs face as it watches it's owner walk away and leave it in this strange place. It is a difficult time for our volunteers and has brought tears to our eyes. But if this is the situation you find yourself in, do not leave it till the week before you leave to contact rescues looking for help. Rehoming animals takes time and you did not decide to move to Australia yesterday and leave in a weeks time. You have probably planned this trip for months in advance so please do your pet some justice and give them every chance of finding a good home before you leave. Trust us, you will feel much better leaving them with a loving family than dropping them at a rescue centre not knowing how long they will be there before someone adopts them. Last year we got a call from a distraught lady needing help finding new homes for her two dogs as she was emigrating, "When do you leave?" we asked. "June 2014" she replied. Our jaws nearly hit the floor, but for the right reasons. No one ever gives us this much notice. It took three months but we found wonderful homes for both dogs, she was able to visit the homes they were going to, meet their new families and though it was still hard to say goodbye she knew they were in safe hands before she left.

No.2 "I'm moving house and can't bring our pet"
A surprising one, but sadly this seems to be a pretty common reason to get rid of a pet. "Landlords won't accept us if we bring our pet." We hear it all the time. We usually get a call from someone saying they are moving house and can't bring the family dog and please please please can we help. Again we understand circumstances can't be helped sometimes, you've tried every way of getting a place that you can bring beloved Benjii with you but, alas, no, you haven't found anywhere and rather than everyone living on the street cuddling the family dog for warmth you look for help. "When are you moving?" we ask and the usual reply without even batting an eyelid is "next week!". This puts rescues under so much pressure, our volunteers are animal lovers and we do our best to help, but cases like this give us very little chance. They put huge strain on the limited resources we have. The best thing you can do is if you begin to find yourself in this situation is to contact rescues as early as possible, give them a chance to advertise your dog while you are still able to look after it and try to work with them giving them a date you think you are going to need help with a space for him. Make sure your pet is neutered, if not get it done, no excuses and always visit the home where your pet will be going. Genuine people have no problems with this and it helps ensure your pet does not end up in the wrong hands. Never advertise a pet as free to a good home - it will not end up in a good home.

And the No1 reason we hear to rehome a pet...

"We're having a baby and we don't have time for our dog/cat/hamster anymore" 
This is the one reason we find hardest to hear from people wanting to surrender a pet. In our experience it is mostly in relation to dogs, but we have also had cats surrendered for the same reason. It is difficult to stomach this reason considering the cases we come across of animals who are in a desperate state and would only love to be in a safe place, to live with a family who may not have endless hours to spend with them at certain stages of life but who would love and take care of them. This dog or cat that you got as a cute puppy/kitten, have had it for well over a year, maybe even four or five years, and has been your four legged baby ever since. To them you are their whole world, and now a new baby has arrived and their world has been turned upside down. You don't have as much time for them, they aren't behaving like they used to and your patience is at an all time low. So what is the solution? Easiest & quickest way to get back to normal? Get rid of the dog or cat. "Its the best thing for them." We disagree. The best thing for your pet is to keep it in the home it has known for the last few years. Make the adjustments to include them in family life. There may be a couple of months where you feel they aren't getting the attention they deserve but routines do settle back down. We are a charity, we are here to help, we try not to judge as everyone's circumstances are different, people may not have family & friends to turn to for help, they might be a single parent family and it has all become too much to cope with. But in general having to rehome a pet because of a new baby is largely avoidable and there is plenty people can do in advance to make the addition of a new baby and the changes it brings to your pets routine as easy as possible.

Back To Training School

There are tonnes of articles & videos online about this. You can speak to a professional trainer and might even benefit from some training and socialisation classes. Here are some of the best tips we have found.

Preparation is Key 
With a few months to go, think about what will be different when the new baby arrives and start to introduce these changes so your dog has time to adjust.
  • Your dog may have the run of the house at the minute and you might decide when the baby comes they can't go upstairs any longer or need to stay in the kitchen more. You need to start setting these boundaries. One good rule is to not allow the dog into the baby's room. They may sit at the door while you are busy getting it ready but setting boundaries will help them understand what belongs to the baby, does not belong to them.
  • Your dog may be allowed to curl up on the couch all day but with a new baby you don't want them all over the furniture. It is still OK to let them up to sit beside you but you can train them to only jump up on the sofa or bed when they are invited to do so. 
  • Is your dog a house dog? Do you want them to spend some time out in the garden during the day without getting stressed and barking to come back in? Items like Kong toys are great for keeping your dog occupied for a couple of hours, make sure their kennel is in good condition and will be a nice place for them to snooze. Start with short periods and slowly build it up to an hour or two. We are most certainly not saying the answer is to lock your dog outside all day.
  • Perfecting basic commands like sit, down, stay & leave are hugely beneficial with a new baby around the house. You don't want them picking up items belonging to the baby, but if they do you may not be in a position to jump up from where you are to take away what they have, so being able to use commands will be a very useful tool. Dogs really enjoy training, and mental stimulation can really tire them out.
  •  Does your dog get overly excited with visitors, teach them to be calm and patient, because no doubt you will be having plenty of visitors once baby arrives. 
  • Closer to the due date you may have the pram or crib in the house, allow your dog to get used to the pram and establish a boundary around the crib, bouncer etc.
  • Lead work, if you are having trouble walking the dog, now is the perfect time to address this. You should aim to have them walk on a loose lead, at YOUR pace. This will be so helpful when you are pushing a buggy and are able to bring your dog along with you. 
Start a couple of months before baby is due and introduce these changes gradually and it will make things so much easier when you are sleep deprived and trying to look after the new addition. Even if your baby has already arrived, it is not too late to make these changes you might just require some extra patience.

Baby has arrived! 
An exciting time for all the family, so how is it best to introduce your new baby to the household pet?

  • While Mammy & baby are still in hospital, get your partner to bring home a bib, baby grow or blanket, something with baby's smell, to allow the dog to get used to the scent. You've heard of people doing this before, easy peasy ! or is it? Dogs will be curious and want to have a sniff but how do you go about this the right way? Introduce the item but only allow the dog to sniff it from a distance. They are not allowed to touch it, slobber all over it, or run off with it. This item belongs to you and so too does everything that smells like the baby, so as you introduce it set the boundaries from the beginning. 
  • When you are bringing the baby home, you need to take control of the introduction. Start by taking the dog for a long walk - maybe ask a relative or friend to do this while you are on your way home - burn off all their excess energy. When they return to the house keep everything as calm as possible, make them wait at the door till they are at ease. Mammy has probably been away for a few days and the dog will want to say hello so allow him to do this while she is not holding the baby. They will immediately smell the new baby and know there is something different, if you have already introduced the scent it will be familiar. Whoever is holding the baby should remain relaxed & calm and again allow them to sniff the baby from a distance. Establish boundaries in a calm fashion, no pulling and dragging and shouting at them, you will frighten them & the baby. Strong body language and an assertive voice will do the trick. Over time when you feel comfortable you can allow them to get closer to the baby.
  • Don't forget to keep up their routine. For a calm house they still need to be walked daily to burn some energy. If you are finding it hard to squeeze this in, in the beginning ask a family member or friend to help. "We had loads of offers of help with the baby in the early weeks, but never thought to ask someone to take our dog out for half an hour, we thought everyone just wanted to help with the baby, but it's something that would really make things easier at home in those first weeks" Even a 15 or 20 minute walk will greatly help in the early days till you can get a handle on things. Reinforce the training you have been doing. Stay calm, your dog will mirror your emotions and energy. "The dog is digging holes in the garden, barking all the time, stealing things. He never used to do this before." Your dog has not decided to be extra bold just to annoy you, they simply require some of your attention, and for their daily routine to be as consistent as possible. 
As the baby grows 
Children and pets can be life long friends and form strong bonds. There are studies to show children that grow up with a pet have stronger immune systems than those who don't. So as your child gets older and begins to explore your home, make sure to teach them how to interact with animals respectfully. 
  • Always supervise your child around animals. 
  • Don't let children pull at a dogs or cats ears or tail. The same way you don't allow them to pull at your own hair and ear rings. The calmest dog if provoked enough can snap and the easiest going cat can swipe out if annoyed. Teach them how to gently pet the dog or cat, same as you try to do when small children meet each other. Gently, gently.
  • Reward your dog for good behaviour. Dogs aim to please and many people forget to praise them when they are behaving well and the only way the dog gets attention is when they are being shouted at for bad behaviour.
  • Create a quiet space your dog can go to away from the baby if they begin to feel uneasy. Don't allow a child to chase the dog into his area. This can appear to be comical but your dog is trying to do what is best by removing himself from the situation and is becoming more stressed with your child following him.

It is not a good time to get a new pet while you are expecting a baby. It takes time for them to settle into a new environment and to establish routines and with a baby arriving soon after it can be chaotic. In the end it is the pet who loses out. So be sensible and wait until you are settled with the new baby, or your child is a bit older and can help with looking after the pet. 

Your baby's safety is your priority and if you have put in the training and consulted a professional, but you still feel your pet cannot adjust, it then may be time to consider looking for a new home for them. The new family will benefit from the training you have put in with your dog. Be honest and tell any potential new owners the issues you have had, you don't want to put anyone else's family in danger. 

Pets Will Adapt to Change in Routines
But the bottom line is, pets can adjust, you can ease them into it and after the craziness of the new babies arrival, things will settle down and you can have many happy years together with a house full of children and your loyal family pet. Give them the best chance to prove it can work, don't listen to other peoples negative comments and immediately jump to the final conclusion that they have to go, because quite simply, they don't.

Last Hope is Expecting! 
Here at Last Hope there is a busy year ahead for our volunteers, some more than others with lots of new babies expected in 2014 and not our usual furry 4 legged variety :) We have asked our volunteers to keep us up to date on how they are getting on with preparations for their new arrivals and to see how they get on with introductions to their pets. Between four volunteers there are seven dogs and eight cats in the households, so we look forward to hearing all about it and we will be sharing their experiences on this blog, so don't forget to check back with us.

Helpful Links
Here are some interesting articles and websites with training techniques & tips, but there are plenty more out there. 

Cesar Milan


Huffington Post

Trainers Recommended by Last Hope
We have worked with these trainers so know from first hand experience how good they are.

Brian Rosney is an excellent dog behaviourist, who has worked closely with Last Hope Charity and helped us get some of the more difficult dogs ready for rehoming. He has literally worked miracles for us

Lydia Finnegan - Obedience & socialisation classes for dogs in the Navan area